Types of Metric Feet in Poetry with Examples
The metrical system may sound to you as a unit of measurement used in some countries to measure distance. However, when we refer to metric feet in poetry, we are also talking about a metrical unit, but in this case, when applied to poetry, or prose, it refers to the sound patterns that each foot in a verse represent. If you want to know more about the types of metric feet in poetry, also known as prosody, keep on reading this oneHOWTO article to find out.
What is a metrical foot in poetry?
A metrical foot or prosody, is the basic unit known as the property of a single verse that composes a pattern of rhythm and sound in a poem. Within the unit, we can find a limited number of syllables that corresponds to the pattern of the foot. Thus, each line of poetry will follow a certain meter in its words.
Each type of metrical foot has a certain number of syllables that combine long or stressed syllables with short or unstressed syllables. The combination of them creates a type of meter.
Metic patterns in poetry
Before getting started on the types of metric feet in poetry, we need to stress that the types will vary in classical languages and in English poetry. Whereas feet types depend un the number of syllables in the foot and the pattern of the vowel length in languages such as French, in the English language it will depend in the number of syllables in the foot and the stress of the syllable.
Therefore, we are presenting the types of metric feet in poetry according to the number of syllables (note that the syllables do not necessarily have to correspond to the same word) as a first classification and the meter pattern used in each case:
These are words or metric feet formed by two syllables. Depending on which part is stressed they can be:
- Iamb. This type of metric foot consists of two syllables. The first will be unstressed and the second will be stressed. This is the structure of iamb: _ ^
- Pyrrhus: The pyrrhic metrical foot is composed by two syllables that are not stressed. Its structure is: _ _
- Trochee or choreus: This disyllable metric foot has the first syllable stressed and the second unstressed: ^ _
- Spondee: The last of the disyllabic metric foot consists of two stressed syllables: ^ ^
These correspond to a verse or line that is formed by metric feet of three syllables. According to which are stressed, we can classify the following:
- Tribrach: Words or units consisting of three syllables that are not stressed. Its structure is: _ _ _
- Dactyl: Type of metric foot that has the first syllable stressed and the two following unstressed: ^_ _
- Amphibrach: This metric food consists of the first and last syllable unstressed and the second and middle syllable stressed: _ ^_
- Anapest: Also known as antidactylus, is is the contrary of the dactyl metric foot, as it is only the last syllable that is stressed: _ _^
- Bacchius: The bacchius has the last two syllables stressed and the first unstressed: _ ^^
- Cretic: Also known as amphimacer, this has the first and last stressed syllables: ^ _ ^
- Antibacchuius: This metric foot has the first two syllables stressed, whereas the last is unstressed: ^ ^ _
- Molossus: In this metric foot, all of the syllables are stressed: ^^^
Tetrasyllables can be confused with disyllables sometimes as they may follow patterns that double disyllabic metric feet. However, as you will see, most of them are easily identifiable:
- Tetrabrach: Also known as proceleusmatic, this metric foot has none of its syllables stressed: _ _ _ _
- Primus paeon: As its Latin name suggests, primus paeon has the first syllable out of four stressed: ^_ _ _
- Secundus paeon: This type of metric foot only stressed the second syllable, the rest are unstressed: _ ^ _ _
- Tetrius paeon: In this case, the third syllable is the only stressed syllable: _ _ ^_
- Quartus paeon: Yes, you've guessed it, only the last syllable out of the four is stressed: _ _ _ ^
- Major ionic: Also known as double iamb, the two firs syllables are stressed whereas the last two are unstressed: ^^_ _
- Minor ionic: This is the contrary of the above, as it is the last two syllables that are stressed: _ _ ^^
- Ditrochee: In this case, alternate syllables are stressed, the first and third syllables to be more precise: ^_ ^_
- Diiamb: This metric foot copies the iamb structure, with the second and fourth syllables stressed: _^_^
- Choriamb: In this case, the first and last syllables are stressed, whereas the second and third aren't: ^_ _^
- Antispast: This type of metric foot consists of the two middle syllables stressed, whereas the first and last are unstressed: _^^_
- First epitrite: The three last syllables are stressed, and the only syllable that is unstressed is the first: _^^^
- Second epitrite: The only syllable that is unstressed is the second in this metric meter: ^_ ^^
- Third epitrite: As the name suggests, the third syllable is the only that is unstressed: ^^_^
- Fourth epitrite: In this metic foot, the last and fourth syllable is the one that is unstressed: ^^^_
- Dispondee: Last but not least, the dispondee has all of its four syllables stressed: ^^^^
Metric feet examples
Now that you know all of the types of metric feet, you should know that, in the English language, the most commonly used metric feet are generally disyllables and trisyllables, which is why we are going to give you examples of the most used in real poetry.
Iamb in poetry
As mentioned, we are going to give you examples of iamb meter, which can be reproduced in poetry according to the amount of times iambic feet is used in a line:
- Iambic dimeter (used twice in one line)
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
- Iambic trimeter (used three times in one line)
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf ....
- Iambic tetrameter (used four times in one line)
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er dales and hills
Up the mountain,
Down the valley ...
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn't keep her ...
in the light
of the moon
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold
Just for a handful of silver he left us
Just for a riband to stick in his coat...
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward...
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